As the nation readies for the next general elections and the cauldron of politics hots up, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, which was once seen by many as ‘the’ third alternative — to BJP and Congress — seems to be in a meltdown.
The grand national expansion plan of AAP, which began in 2014 in the wake of the Lok Sabha elections when Kejriwal contested against Narendra Modi for the Varanasi seat, seems to be going nowhere, with the party having lost assembly elections last year even in Punjab, where it was considered a favourite after it won four of the 13 LS seats in 2014.
In Gujarat, after the party failed to make an impact even after many years, AAP’s Kanubhai Kalsaria joined Congress in July this year. In Goa, where 38 of its 39 candidates lost deposits in last year’s assembly poll, AAP has vowed to “re-build the organisation from scratch”. Kejriwal had campaigned extensively in Goa.
As the 2019 general election nears, AAP plans to up candidates in 80-100 Lok Sabha seats but there is no sign of gains anywhere, except in Delhi, where it is in power. Its hopes are pinned mostly on Delhi, Punjab and Haryana.
In Haryana, Kejriwal’s home state, opposition from friend-turned-foe Yogendra Yadav could do it in. In Punjab, the AAP unit is marred by internal dissent. In Delhi, it is in slow implosion throughout its six-year-long roller-coaster ride since its inception in November 2012.
The fresh spate of desertions — the resignations of the party’s media faces Ashutosh and Ashish Khaitan a fortnight ago — point to a deeper crisis as Kejriwal’s party completes three and a half years in office.
The resignations came months after AAP nominated three people to Rajya Sabha, including the party’s Sanjay Singh, its chartered accountant ND Gupta, and Sushil Gupta, a businessman, who quit Congress to join AAP.
The party stormed to power within three years of its formation, winning 67 of 70 seats in the Delhi assembly. But just as quickly, it finds itself in disarray, beset with endless squabbles, personality clashes and competing ambitions. Close to two dozen important leaders of AAP have walked out and never spare a chance to target Kerjiwal, the man who was touted as the ultimate ‘Mr Clean’ in Indian politics. Around a dozen who quit AAP joined the BJP.
The dark clouds of division have been looming large over AAP from the outset. Soon after a faction of the anti-corruption movement India Against Corruption, led by Kejriwal, formed AAP in 2012, the erstwhile top cop Kiran Bedi walked out. Later, she joined the BJP and was its CM candidate in the 2015 polls.
A former MLA from Laxmi Nagar, Vinod Kumar Binny, quit the party in January 2014, less than a year after AAP formed a short-lived government. There was high voltage drama when he quit, accusing the party of betraying the people and going back on its principles. He, too, joined the BJP later.
Shazia Ilmi soon followed them to the BJP while Captain GR Gopinath from Bengaluru resigned from his party post citing differences with Kejriwal. Gopinath voiced his disappointment and disillusionment with the party’s frequent agitational tactics and tantrums. “My decision to leave the party was triggered by the lack of inner-party democracy. We fight against cronyism, but we have a crony clique which runs the party and takes impulsive decisions,” said Ilmi when she left.
Next, Yogendra Yadav, taking the blame for the party’s poor show in Haryana in the 2014 LS polls, quit from all posts in AAP, amid differences with Kejriwal. In 2015, the party expelled lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Anand Kumar and Ajit Jha citing reasons like “gross indiscipline, anti-party activities and violation of code of conduct of the party”.
Responding to the show cause notice of AAP, Yadav, who often accused Kejriwal of autocratic functioning, said, “The kangaroo trials, expulsions, witch-hunts, character assassination, rumour campaigns and emotional theatre to justify such macabre acts — all this is so true of the Stalinist regime.”
In 2017, AAP sacked its minister Kapil Mishra, who later on went to make allegations of graft against Kejriwal. In turn, Kejriwal’s loyalists branded him a “BJP agent”.
The party removed its firebrand leader Kumar Vishwas as the in-charge of the Rajasthan wing in April this year. Supporters of Vishwas say he is being “systematically sidelined” in the party after he was ignored for the Rajya Sabha nomination. The poet is sulking, and there are rumours that he, too, is on the way out.
In Punjab, the party sacked Sukhpal Singh Khaira from the post of opposition leader last month and replaced him with Harpal Singh Cheema. In the run-up to the assembly polls last year, AAP had sacked its state unit convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur on allegations of bribes.